The Monochrome Set Stay a Very Strange Course on 'Maisieworld'
The indie pop legends' late-period resurgence continues with a strange record seemingly built to please die-hards and slightly confound everyone else.
The Monochrome Set
2 Feb 2018
What's most remarkable about the Monochrome Set is that, through all of the rotating band members and the stop-start nature of their career, they've never veered too far from the sound they established for themselves in the early 1980s. Much of this has to be down to the ever-present influence of vocalist, songwriter, and (now) guitarist Bid, the only consistent member of the Set since their inception. While there have been some slight variations in the band's sound depending on the lineup, the Set are still very much a vehicle for Bid's darkly witty and idiosyncratic pop songs. As such, Maisieworld very much follows in that tradition; it's a Monochrome Set album through and through, sure to be cherished by fans and sure to be regarded with some confusion by anyone else.
Any differences that one could spot in Maisieworld are minimal at best, and they are largely changes in maturity. The set's early work found Bid serving as a wry commentator with an air of devilish charm about him; it always seemed as if he was getting away with something cheeky by singing what he was singing. In contrast, the Bid of 2018 is a man who has grown into himself, his playful-yet-acerbic tone more focused. He seems to take jabs at both the modern culture of overmedication and the masculine stiff upper lip on "I Feel Fine (Really)", while the rollicking "Oh Yes, I'm Going to Be in Your Dreams Tonight" is at once a celebration of sexual infatuation while also being slightly threatening. These are delicate lines to balance on, and Bid does so with a deftness few can manage.
While much of Maisieworld is what one would expect from a Monochrome Set record, there are a few detours into the surreal that keep the album from being the sort of perfect introduction to the band that it could have been. The album opens with "Give Me Your Youth", an organ-driven horror movie vamp-up with a lyric akin to the Kinks by way of Universal monster movies. Even stranger is "Mrs Robot", in which a series of mechanical escorts are offered to a sad suitor who may not be worthy of even artificial sexual pleasure. A fascination with technology and the super-connected lifestyle of the 2010s is something of a throughline in Maisieworld, and while Bid smartly avoids falling into Black Mirror-esque moral panic over modern technology, his surreal approach to handling these topics can be interesting and off-putting in equal measure, depending on your familiarity.
In the end, Maisieworld perhaps doesn't live up to the aspirations it sets out for itself in concept, but it remains a solid entry in the Monochrome Set's already impressive catalog. They have perhaps made better records, and to say that the album is good for latter-day Set standards would be more damning with faint praise than this album really deserves. Still, Bid's knack for a clever turn of phrase and a sneaky melody remains unmatched and sadly under-heralded, but for those already in the know, Maisieworld offers more little reminders as to why this band is worth the time.